By Danielle Lopez, Danielle Vabner, Erika Sauceda, Alexandra Cannon
AUSTIN, Tex.— In a small, bright blue room, Wendy Mitchell sits on the floor, prepared to perform her next surgery. She takes her sewing needle and thread and begins to stitch up her latest patient, a stuffed animal whose tail had been torn off by a dog just days before.
Mitchell is the founder of The Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation, a free Austin-based adoption agency for stuffed animals. The foundation also offers stuffed animal repair services and hosts petting zoos around Austin.
The animals, which range from a snowman in a tie to a psychedelic dinosaur, were either found, donated or, on occasion, they simply show up at Mitchell’s front steps.
“Sometimes, they just knock on the door,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell runs The S.A.R.F., which began a little more than seven years ago, out of her small marketing office in Northeast Austin. She started the project as a creative outlet for her to write. With every new animal, she said she sits down and helps them write their own bios to post on the adoption website.
“It’s like a creative writing project for me,” Mitchell said. “I’m very much a writer and a Pixar fan. You can put as many adult concepts in their bios and the kids are going to still see a cute stuffed animal.”
By creating backstories to each animal, Mitchell said the animals become more appealing.
“You’re just creating a value to something without having to manufacture something new,” Mitchell said. “It’s just a matter of making something valuable again.”
To apply, potential adopters can fill out an online application that outlines what their profession is, what their home life is like and why they think they are a good candidate. Mitchell said it’s very much like a real adoption agency application.
Last year, 11-year-old Melanie Sylvana was in search of a stuffed companion. She and her mother came across the The S.A.R.F website and adopted Allen, a stuffed pig who is an accountant. She said he now has his own office in her bedroom and often helps her with his math homework.
“Buying an animal from a store is boring,” Sylvana said. “They don’t have a story or a name and I always forget about them. But I really love pigs and Allen was exactly what I wanted.”
Mitchell said the people who adopt The S.A.R.F. animals are not just children — adults adopt too. Collette Girourard, who works as the Commissary Manager at the Travis County Sheriff’s Office, used to be a correctional facilities officer. She attended one of Mitchell’s petting zoos and adopted Horace, a stuffed animal who used to be a prisoner and had been released from stuffed-animal Alcatraz.
“I just felt really qualified to care for this stuffed criminal,” Girourard said. “Horace and I just got back from a wonderful two-week camping vacation in September and another week vacation spent at Universal Studios.”
Although it’s time consuming, Mitchell hopes to continue expanding The S.A.R.F. She often thinks of her 19-year-old stuffed platypus and wants to help people find their own friend.
“When people come and pick up their adopted animal, there’s something really magical about it,” Mitchell said.